[Pnews] Florida Prisoners Prepare to Strike, Demanding an End to Unpaid Labor and Brutal Conditions

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jan 15 13:38:26 EST 2018


  Florida Prisoners Prepare to Strike, Demanding an End to Unpaid Labor
  and Brutal Conditions

Alice Speri - January 14, 2018

_Florida prisoners are_ calling for a general strike to start this week 
— marking the third mass action over the course of a year in protest of 
inhumane conditions in the state’s detention facilities. Detainees in at 
least eight prisons have declared their intention to stop all work on 
Monday — Martin Luther King Jr. Day — to demand an end to unpaid labor 
and price gouging in prison commissaries, as well as the restoration of 
parole, among other requests.

Coordinated, nonviolent prison protests as well as spontaneous uprisings 
amid deteriorating conditions have escalated in recent years both 
nationwide and in Florida, which has the third largest prison system in 
the country. Prisoners in the state were among the most active during a 
nationwide strike in September 2016 
which was quickly dubbed the “largest prison strike in U.S. history.” At 
least 10 Florida prisons participated in that action, which was 
planned to coincide with the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison 
but started a day early when tensions flared 
<http://www.miamiherald.com/news/state/florida/article100618707.html> at 
Holmes Correctional Institution in the Florida Panhandle. Then, in 
August, in response to prison activists’ calls for another show of 
dissent, Department of Corrections officials placed the entire state 
system — 143 facilities and 97,000 people — on lockdown, an 
unprecedented move.

Incarcerated organizers of this week’s strike have chosen to remain 
anonymous to prevent retaliation, but they shared a statement outlining 
their demands 
with outside supporters. In an audio message from prison shared with The 
Intercept, one of the organizers described the action as a “nonviolent 
protest to get what we deserve from our government.”

“They use word play and deceive the public about what really goes on 
inside the system, and we want to expose those things,” he said.

Prison officials regularly retaliate against organizers by restricting 
their visitation rights and contact with other inmates, and sometimes 
even moving them to different facilities, which makes it harder for 
reports of protests to reach the public. But despite the challenges, 
“prisoners are pretty well organized and coordinated inside the prisons 
and throughout the prison system,” said Panagioti Tsolkas, an organizer 
with the prisoners’ rights and environmentalist group Campaign to Fight 
Toxic Prisons. Tsolkas, who communicates regularly with activists 
inside, said that some of the upcoming strike’s organizers have already 
been placed in solitary confinement in retaliation for their efforts.

In response to questions about the planned strike, a spokesperson for 
the Florida Department of Corrections wrote in a statement to The 
Intercept that “the department will continue to ensure the safe 
operation of our correctional institutions.”

      “Slave Labor” and Price Gouging

Florida prisoners work both inside the prisons — doing laundry, cooking, 
maintaining the facilities, and growing food — and on outside “community 
work squads.” According to the corrections department, in 2017 the 
latter group alone performed 3.15 million hours of work valued at more 
than $38 million statewide 
<http://www.dc.state.fl.us/oth/Quickfacts.html>, including cleanup work 
after Hurricane Irma.

“Our goal is to make the governor realize that it will cost the state of 
Florida millions of dollars daily to contract outside companies to come 
and cook, clean, and handle the maintenance,” the prisoners wrote in 
their statement. “This will cause a total BREAK DOWN.”

Prisoners are demanding compensation for their work as opposed to “the 
current slave arrangement,” they wrote, in which they are paid in time 
deducted from their sentences. “A lot of times people will work in order 
to get time deducted, and then the prison guards and officials will find 
ways to punish someone for what the prisoners are saying are made up 
reasons that then extend the person’s time,” Jacqueline Azis, an 
attorney with the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, 
told The Intercept.

“We want to be paid for the work we do, so that somebody doesn’t end up 
spending 10, 15, 20 years not being paid, and sent home with a bus 
ticket and a $50 check,” the prisoner speaking in the recording said. 
“We want to create an environment where someone can do their time, be 
rehabilitated, and enter into society with some type of hope.”

“That would be helpful for society instead of creating a revolving door 
where you lock people up and just set them up for failure so that they 
keep coming back.”

Prisoners are also calling for fairer pricing of goods they can purchase 
in prison — claiming, for example, that a case of soup that costs $4 on 
the outside is sold for $17 by prison commissaries (the DOC disputed 
that claim and provided the following list of canteen prices 

“This is highway robbery without a gun,” the prisoners wrote. “It’s not 
just us that they’re taking from. It’s our families who struggle to make 
ends meet and send us money — they are the real victims that the state 
of Florida is taking advantage of.”

Strike organizers are also calling on Florida to restore parole — which 
the state eliminated for non-capital felonies in 1984. “When someone is 
sentenced to life in prison, it means life in prison in Florida,” said 
Azis. “There is no chance that good behavior in prison will get someone 
out earlier.”

The lack of parole has compounded the system’s colossal overcrowding, 
which in turn has contributed to some of the harshest and most violent 
prison conditions in the country. “There are so many unexplained 
deaths,” Lisa Graybill, deputy legal director for criminal justice 
reform at the Southern Poverty Law Center, told The Intercept. “They’re 
just appalling.”

      Unexplained Deaths in Custody

Deaths in Florida state prisons — including homicides and a spate of 
suicides — have skyrocketed 
in recent years, soaring from 191 in 2000 to 356 in 2016.

Among those killed in custody was Darren Rainey, a mentally ill prisoner 
who was scalded to death 
at Dade Correctional Institution in 2012 when guards locked him in a hot 
shower for two hours. The water reached temperatures as high as 180 
according to witnesses 
including a nurse on duty that night who said that the heat controls 
were in a neighboring room controlled by guards.

Following Rainey’s death, a devastating investigation 
by the Miami Herald detailed more unexplained and brutal deaths, as well 
as system-wide neglect and abuse and efforts to cover up prison 
officials’ wrongdoing. Randall Jordan-Aparo, a disabled inmate at 
Franklin Correctional Institution, was killed in 2010 when guards beat 
him and gassed him with a chemical agent 
after he begged for medical help for days (prison guards later took to 
Facebook to mock his death 
Another prisoner allegedly hanged herself while her hands were tied.

The corrections department has also been sued over its treatment of 
disabled prisoners 
and its failure to treat 
prisoners with Hepatitis C, and rights groups have called on the 
Department of Justice — twice — to open a federal civil rights 
investigation into the state’s prisons. “These problems are chronic,” 
Graybill said. “They haven’t been addressed and they’re not going away.”

Like most other states, Florida went on an “incarceration binge” in the 
1990s, Graybill said. But unlike most other states — some 36 of which 
have undertaken some kind of criminal justice reform — the state has 
consistently refused to reconsider its policies.

“The solution for Florida is clear,” she said. “It needs to improve the 
conditions of confinement in its facilities, and one way it can afford 
to do that is by ensuring that it is only incarcerating the people who 
truly need to be incarcerated.”

“The question becomes, Why has the legislature been so unwilling or 
unable to do that?”

      “This Is Florida … We’ll Beat Your Ass!”

In addition to denouncing brutal conditions of confinement, the 
prisoners are demanding broader criminal justice reform in Florida 
— including restored voting rights and a moratorium on executions.

Florida is one of four states in the country — with Kentucky, Iowa, and 
Virginia — that imposes lifetime disenfranchisement for people convicted 
of felonies. That means 1.5 million state residents can’t vote because 
of their criminal history. “People who have already paid their debt to 
society are essentially prevented from being active citizens,” said 
Azis, the ACLU lawyer.

A proposed constitutional amendment 
could change that — if it can garner enough support to get on the ballot 
— but until that passes, the only potential path to the vote is for each 
disenfranchised individual to personally appeal to the governor, Rick 
Scott. Scott grants only 8 percent of those appeals, with little 
transparency on the decision-making process and a backlog of 10,000 
applications awaiting review, the New York Times recently reported 
The process leaves restoration of the right to vote dependent on the 
governor’s personal convictions. In a hearing on the voting rights of a 
man who had been convicted of manslaughter in a drunken driving 
incident, for instance, Scott said he would need to think about it — 
then noted, with his mic accidentally still on 
“That’s how my uncle died.”

Scott also wields disproportionate power when it comes to the state’s 
death penalty. After newly elected prosecutor Aramis Ayala — Florida’s 
first black state attorney – said she would not seek the death penalty 
in her district, which includes Orlando, Scott moved 29 potential 
capital cases to a different jurisdiction. Ayala appealed, but the 
state’s Supreme Court ruled in the governor’s favor, forcing her 
to walk back her ban. Last year, Florida moved to tighten its death 
penalty laws by requiring a unanimous jury verdict after the U.S. 
Supreme Court ruled that the previous sentencing protocol was 
unconstitutional. The move made dozens of people eligible for 
re-sentencing, but the state limited retroactive application to those 
sentenced after 2002 — leaving approximately 200 
<http://www.motherjones.com/crime-justice/2017/08/florida-death-penalty-unanimous-jury-mark-asay/> on 
death row with sentences ineligible for review.

Finally, prisoners planning the strike are joining the local community’s 
against a phosphate mine set to surround the Reception and Medical 
Center near Lake Butler, where new arrivals and inmates with medical 
conditions are housed. Residents and prisoners fear the health 
consequences of water contamination and exposure to potential 
carcinogens linked to phosphate mining.

Kevin “Rashid” Johnson arrived at the Reception and Medical Center last 

Johnson, a well-known prison activist, jailhouse lawyer, and prolific 
writer and critic of prison abuse, had already been moved from Virginia 
to Texas under an interstate agreement that allows for the transfer of 
prisoners — ostensibly for public safety reasons, but often as a 
punitive measure.

That Johnson would be transferred to Florida “is a piece of evidence of 
how the Florida prison system is viewed even by the prison industry 
itself,” said Tsolkas, who has been communicating with him ahead of the 
upcoming strike. “Appalachia wasn’t bad enough. Texas wasn’t bad enough. 
Well, you’re going to the swamps.”

At the RMC, Johnson wrote in July <http://rashidmod.com/?p=2443>, a 
guard told him that he was “not in Virginia, or wherever else” he might 
have been previously. “You will answer us only as ‘no sir’ and ‘yessir,’ 
‘no ma’am’ and ‘yes ma’am.’ You forget this and we’ll kick your fucking 
teeth out,” the guard said, according to Johnson. “This is Florida, and 
we’ll beat your ass! We’ll kill you!”

That didn’t stop Johnson from continuing to expose 
<http://rashidmod.com/?p=2471> prison abuse in Florida, or from joining 
the state prisoners’ organizing efforts, including ahead of Monday’s strike.

“What the prisoners are asking for is not only completely reasonable, 
but should be the bare minimum of how we treat an individual that the 
state is in charge of caring for,” said Azis. “I would hope that 
whatever the DOC’s response is, it is an ethical and responsible way of 
addressing these real concerns.”

Top photo: Florida Department of Corrections inmates clean a canal area 
in Greenacres, Florida, on Nov. 19, 2013.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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